When God gave the Ten Commandments to His people, the Hebrews--and through them, to the rest of the world--He didn't dive into the first, "Thou shalt not..."
Instead, He began with a breathtaking promise: "I am the Lord your God..."
Why do I call that statement breathtaking?
For that matter, why do I call it a promise?
Because, before demanding a single act of obedience to Him, God promised to be the Lord of this ragtag group of just-liberated slaves. He promised to be there for them, to hear their prayers, to lead them into a land they didn't deserve.
God's words to the Hebrews are at loggerheads with humanity's usual notions about God and religion. We tend to think, "If I do this or that, God will care about me." But God says here, "I care about you now, even before I lay down the rules."
And the Bible says that God chose the ancient Hebrews not because there was anything special about them. This is emphasized in a famous passage in Deuteronomy:
For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.Did you catch the argument that passage makes?: God loved the Hebrews because He loved the Hebrews.
The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:6-8)
It's the nature of God to love. "God is love," we're told in the New Testament book of First John. So, God chose a people that the world might deem unlovable and certainly unworthy of note to be His people.
They were also to be a "light to the nations," meaning two things:
(1) Through this people--imperfect, often rebellious, sometimes faithless, frequently whiny--God would demonstrate the toughness and resolve of His love. When the world reads the story of God's dealings with His ancient people, the Hebrews, in the Old Testament, they're enlightened about God, His charitable attitude toward the human race, and His willingness to forgive sinners who turn from sin and follow Him."I am the Lord your God..." God said before getting to the first commandment. It's a promise God loves keeping to all of us...if we will let Him.
(2) Through this people, God would bring "the light of the world" to birth in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
[Thanks to John Schroeder of Blogotional for linking to this post!]